Adrian Peterson was booed loudly on his first carry Monday night. He saw the field for only nine plays total. And TV cameras caught what looked like a heated exchange between him and his new head coach on the sideline.
Welcome back, Adrian!
If Peterson expected a fairy tale return to Minnesota, the ugliness of a 29-19 throttling by his former employer turned his homecoming into an episode of “Twilight Zone.”
Peterson looked out-of-place wearing a different NFL uniform after 10 seasons in Vikings purple, and his debut with the New Orleans Saints couldn’t have gone much worse.
Peterson rushed for 18 harmless yards on six carries. Asked afterward to evaluate his performance, Peterson’s measured words spoke volumes.
“I think it was nine snaps,” he said. “There’s not too much to evaluate.”
Oh, but there is, starting with his sideline exchange with Saints coach Sean Payton early in the second half.
TV cameras caught Peterson saying something terse to Payton, who turned and responded. Peterson glared at his coach as he walked away.
What was that all about?
“We’ll keep that confidential,” Peterson said.
Pushed on the subject, Peterson initially acted coy.
“I don’t know what [video] clip you’re talking about,” he said.
Peterson indicated that, at some point, he suggested to Payton that he call more inside-zone running plays. Peterson then tried to defuse any tension about his limited role in the game plan.
“There’s no conflict,” he said. “Let’s not try and spin it like there is.”
Payton said he didn’t remember any heated exchange. The images on TV suggested otherwise.
“That’s what people do, they jump to conclusions,” Peterson said. “People make their own assumptions when they don’t have any idea what’s going on or what was said. I could have said, ‘I love you.’ There’s no issue. We have bigger fish to fry.”
In a follow-up tweet late Monday night, Peterson wrote: “Let’s be clear … I said we need to run the ball up their Donkey. Nothing more. I’m passionate but respect my coach at the same time.”
Let's be clear...I said we need to run the ball up their Donkey. Nothing more. I'm passionate but respect my coach at the same time— Adrian Peterson (@AdrianPeterson) September 12, 2017
Drama over that exchange overshadowed a homecoming that fizzled quickly. How Vikings fans would greet Peterson became a topic of conjecture once NFL schedule-makers showed their thirst for drama and TV ratings in making the Saints the season opener at U.S. Bank Stadium.
The suspense lasted long enough for Peterson to jog onto the field for the game’s first play. The Saints put the ball in his hands on first down and loud boos cascaded from the stands.
Some fans undoubtedly cheered too, but boos drowned out cheers by a hefty margin, which was a little surprising.
“I heard screaming and yelling,” Peterson said. “I didn’t hear any boos.”
Peterson plowed his way for 9 yards on his first carry and then basically became an afterthought. His impact barely registered a ripple. He managed only 9 more yards on his next five carries.
Even though he started the game and the second half, Peterson looks like the third option in the Saints running back rotation behind Mark Ingram and rookie Alvin Kamara, largely because Peterson remains ineffective on third down.
If the opener is any indication of how the Saints plan to use Peterson, his mood is worth watching.
“Obviously being the competitor I am, I want to be in there every snap,” he said. “But I don’t make those calls. I’m there being pulled back, just waiting for my number to be called.”
The vibe pregame felt more upbeat and nostalgic for Peterson. Fans wearing No. 28 jerseys — in both Vikings and Saints colors — converged on the area above the Saints tunnel waiting for him to appear for early warmups.
Peterson roamed the field, catching up with old friends. He hugged former teammates, coaches, team officials, stadium workers and ball boys. At one point, Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen sneaked up behind Peterson and playfully put him in a headlock.
“They’re still family,” Peterson said.
His return felt like an awkward family reunion.
Chip Scoggins firstname.lastname@example.org